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Christmas of Life in Bethlehem, Which Is the Church

Lectio Divina: Christmas Mass at Midnight

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Is 9, 1-6; Ps 95; Ti 2.11 – 14; Lk 2.1 – 14?
Midnight Mass
December 25, 2016
1) He is born in Bethlehem, let’s go and kneel in front of Him.
At Christmas during the Midnight and Dawn Masses, the liturgy presents the narration of the birth of Christ according to Saint Luke and reports the annunciation to the shepherds: “Fear not: behold, I announce to you a great joy, which will be for all the people: today, in the city of David, is born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord “(Lk 2, 11).
Today, December 25, 2016, for us “in the city of David is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” This city is Bethlehem, and as did the shepherds as soon as they heard the angelic announcement, it is there that we must hurry.
Today, as in the holy night more than 2,000 years ago, this is the sign that is given: “a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger” (Lk 2, 12). It is a sign striking for its utter simplicity. What is amazing is the absence of any magnificent sign. The shepherds, and we with them, are wrapped and awed by the glory of God, but the sign they receive is simply: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger”. When they reach Bethlehem, they see nothing but a humble child in a poor manger. The wonder of Christmas is here. Without the angels’ revelation we would not understand that the child lying in a manger is the Lord. And without the baby in the manger, we would not understand that the glory of the true God is different from the glory of man.
The almighty Love is “under the forms of a Child. The Omnipotence as non-power. Non-power as Love, which surpasses everything and gives meaning to everything. (St. John Paul II, Homily of December 24, 1985). God became a little child so that we could understand, welcome and love Him.
This Little One asks us to be loved: let’s see him as the Lord of angels, but let’s love him as a tender child. Let’s fear him as the Lord of power, but let’s love him wrapped in swaddling clothes. Let’s respect Him as the King of heaven, but let us love Him in the manger that is throne and altar. Let’s love  him kneeling and seeing in his baby’s smiling eyes the caring eyes of the Crucified and the bright eyes of the Resurrected, praying: “Lord, our God, grant us, celebrating with these mysteries  the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deserve, by a dignified behavior, to come in communion with Him “(Prayer after communion). He is the Bread of Life who is born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “the house of bread”.
“This House of Bread is now the Church, where the body of Christ, the true bread, is distributed. The manger of Bethlehem is the altar in the church. Here the creatures of Christ feed. The swaddling clothes are the veil of the sacrament. Here, under the appearances of bread and wine, are the true body and blood of Christ.  We believe that in this sacrament is the true Christ, but wrapped in swaddling clothes, namely invisible. We have no greater and more obvious sign of the nativity of Christ than the body we eat and the blood we drink every day by approaching the altar: every day we see, giving himself in sacrifice, the one who once was born for us from the Virgin Mary. Let us therefore hurry, brethren, to this crib of the Lord; but first, as far as we can, let’s get ready through his grace for this meeting, so that every day and throughout our lives, ‘with a pure heart, a clear conscience and sincere faith’ (2 Cor 6: 6), we may sing together with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2, 14) “(Aelred of Riveaulx, Address 2 for Christmas).
2) The humility of Christmas.
Without the revelation brought with joy and humility by the Angels, we would not understand that the child lying in a manger is the Lord. And without the baby in the manger, we would not understand that the glory of the true God is different from the glory of man.
This glory is manifested in humility and is understood by humility. This is why the Gospel asks us to imitate the humility of the shepherds who recognizing in a poor child still not speaking, the Logos, the Word, the full meaning of life, worshiped Him as the King of kings who, however, had as throne a lowly manger. That is why we have to imitate the humility of the angels that, in the starry and blessed night, sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among the men whom he loves.”
According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux the angels are vitally inserted in the plan of God, carried out by Christ, not only because they accept this plan of redemption and actively collaborate with their full and unconditional love.
On closer reflection, even before the Incarnation of his Word, God has “used” the angels to prepare men for the great event of the coming of His Son to Earth. Even after the Incarnation of the Word, during his Passion, death and resurrection, the angels were present and active. And even when Jesus returns in glory at the end of time, the angels will announce his final coming.
At this point, again inspired by Saint Bernard, I’d like to make a clarification about the relationship between the Angels and Christ. He is God and the angels are subjected to him, but the Son of God took human weakness and, as a man, he is inferior to them. Here you see their humility: they serve the Word even as a man. They submit to his Lordship, even if human, because the higher will of God the Father takes place, develops and focuses in this event. This is the will of God and they welcome it, prostrating themselves before the child born in Bethlehem. Jesus is a child, a man like us in everything except sin, weak and fragile compared to them who are pure spirits. However, in that human flesh there is the eternal Word of God, their Lord. For this reason they bow, worship him, prostrate themselves, sing his glory and serve him with great humility and availability.  Let’s us do the same, because the humility of Christ is served by the humility of the angels and of the shepherds first, and then by the humble three kings.
Christmas is a mystery of humility and it is good if it is inside us, celebrated in the humble silence of the heart and in careful and thoughtful conscience. It is inner and renovator if it makes us grasp the speech that, coming into the world, Jesus made not with words, but with deeds. Which speech? That of humility. This is the fundamental lesson of the mystery of God made man, and this is the first medicine we need (see St Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitade 8, 5, 7, P.L. 42, 952). It is from this root that good life can be reborn.
The invitation to humility will later be repeated by the adult Christ when he says, “If you don’t become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18: 2).
Today, I would change this sentence: “Unless you become like this child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
3) Humility and Virginity.
The shepherds have realized with the heart that, in the child who they were seeing in the manger, the promise of the prophet Isaiah had become reality: “A child is born, unto us a son is given. Upon his shoulder dominion rests “(Is 9.5 – First Reading of the Mass of the Night).
The angel of God invites us to start walking with the heart to see the child lying in the manger. Even for us the sign of God is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that He makes himself small for us. That is how he reigns: loving and letting be loved with humble simplicity
Christ does not want anything from us but our love. Through this charity, let’s learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will; let’s learn to live with Jesus and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. “Christian love, or it is humble, or it is not love of God” (Pope Francis, April 8, 2013).
A meaningful way of living this humble love is the one of the consecrated Virgins in the world. These women, following the example of Mary, Virgin and Mother, are imitating Her whose heart and mind are fully humble. It was for her singular humility that God asked this young lady for her “yes” in order to realize his plan of love and mercy.
Mary’s virginity is unique and unrepeatable, but the consecrated Virgins in the world testify that its spiritual significance concerns every Christian. The virgin persons show that those who trust deeply and humbly in God’s love, welcome Jesus and give Him to the world in a daily Christmas.
In the seclusion of their lives, they welcome also and especially the teaching of the great humility of a Master who still does not speak but is really Everything.

Patristic Reading
Saint Leo the Great
Sermon XXI. On the Feast of the Nativity, I.
All Share in the Joy of Christmas.
Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, “no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth1 .” Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result2 , she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honor that she is soon to be the Mother of God3 . For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it? Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.

  1. The Mystery of the Incarnation is a Fitting Theme for Joy Both to Angels and to Men.

Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who “in the beginning was with God,” through whom “all things were made” and “without” whom “was nothing made4 ,” with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate.5 Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, SO that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other6 .
Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin’s purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honor? Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel’s song when the Lord was born is this, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and their message, “peace on earth to men of good will7 .” For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?
III. Christians Then Must Live Worthily of Christ Their Head.
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit8 , Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ9 ,” that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge thy dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which thou art a member. Recollect that thou wert rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism thou weft made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from thee by base acts, and subject thyself once more to the devil’s thralldom: because thy purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge thee in truth Who ransomed thee in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Jb 19,4,
2 Effectus: the older editions read affatus (sc. the utterances of the angel).
3 Dei genetrix (qeotovko”): in opposing Eutyches, Leo is careful not to fall into Nestorianism. Bright’s note 3 should be read on this passage, and esp. his quotation from Bp. Pearson (note 2 on art. 3) absit ut quisquam S. Mariam Divinoe gratioe privilegiis et speciali gloria fraudare conetur.
4 Jn 1,1-3.
5 “Without-other” repeated in almost the same words in Letter XXVIII. chap. 3.
6 “Without-other” repeated in almost the same words in Letter XXVIII. chap. 3.
7 Lc 2,14.
8 Bingham observes (b. 14,c. 2s 1), that Leo here uses, though in a catholic sense, that form of doxology which had become associated with Arianism. He could well afford to do as S. Athanasius had done, who ascribes glory to the Father “through the Son” at the conclusion of four treatises. Bright.
9 Ep 2,4-5.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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